Robert Tofte’s Rome

Rome held contradictory significances for many English Protestants, representing both the glories of antiquity and the iniquities of ‘popery’. Although some contemporary writers warned against the dangers of ‘Italianate’ culture, surviving accounts reveal that for others it remained a fascinating destination. The poet and translator Robert Tofte [c. 1562–1619/20] was one such traveller and this manuscript was the product of his three years spent in Italy. It functions in part as a memento of Tofte’s own travels. A health pass (certifying that he is free from plague) from his pilgrimage to Loreto is bound into the manuscript as a sort of early modern souvenir. But the bulk of this work comprises biographies of all the living cardinals and ‘the last five popes’, each illustrated with these striking printed and hand-coloured engravings. Tofte’s text weaves together fact and gossip in a mostly dispassionate tone, though his own perspective occasionally slips through (the Spanish Armada, for instance, was ‘bravelie vanquished’). Covering the period from the accession of Pope Sixtus V in 1585 until Tofte’s present day of 1598, this manuscript’s use of collective biography provides both a record of recent history and an insight into a political and religious culture that the Reformation had rendered ever more foreign to English travellers like Robert Tofte. CL

Robert Tofte, ‘Discourse of the last five popes of Rome etc’.

LPL: MS 1112

Further Reading

L. G. Kelly, ‘Tofte , Robert (bap. 1562, d. 1619/20)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004; online edn. 2006), (accessed 23 July 2017).

Robert C. Melzi (ed.), Robert Tofte: Discourse to the Bishop of London (Genève, 1989).

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